My first blog posts included “10 Surprising Truths” about Acton Academy. Recently an Acton parent suggested I re-post them; hence, my next few posts will be an evolved version of these 10 Truths written with fresh eyes and some years under my belt building the Acton model and living out this story. (Thanks, Pam.)
Surprising Truth: Excellence is not our goal.
Many schools make “excellence” a goal. Those who score a 100 on the test are “excellent” and get a gold star or an A. Getting the right answers is the goal and determines who gets to wear the label, “excellent.”
Conversely, our goal is to make the process of mastery a deeply ingrained habit in our children’s life. In his classic book Mastery, George Leonard describes the four keys to mastery: Instruction, Practice, Surrender, Intentionality and The Edge. He encourages us to stop “dabbling, obsessing or hacking.” It is difficult to understand what we are building at Acton Academy without making this book a part of your life. (Come grab me if you want a copy.)
If we make learning mostly about excellence and “winners” and “losers,” we encourage students to become dabblers, quick fix artists who move from one dalliance to another. If we make mastery a deeply ingrained habit, excellence is a natural byproduct, as hard work makes a difficult skill look easy to the average mortal.
If we make mastery a deeply ingrained habit, excellence is a natural byproduct.
Masters pursue a goal for something deeper than the short-lived thrill of beating someone else.
Masters know not to put too much emphasis on early success because early successes soon become a plateau or dip. These dips are difficult and one either quits or chooses to push on with intense effort. By pushing on, perseverance is forged and deeper skills and habits are gained, ultimately building character.
Masters know that true learning is maintaining the “beginner’s mind,” so that once you reach a level of mastery, you have a deep appreciation not of the answers, but of the questions. And even more importantly, you want to pass along these questions to someone else.
This is why our goal at Acton Academy is to make each of us a Guide, something far different than a traditional teacher. Traditional teachers want to become experts so they can be the “smartest person in the room.” Guides work hard so that they can become masters, so they can quietly ask a question that not only changes the debate and paradigm, but often changes a life.
At Acton we aren’t worried about test scores, we are worried about souls forming and the world changing for the better. Yes, our standards for excellence are high but they are a means to an end. Our end, or mission, is not sorting winners and losers – it’s the difficult and important task of guiding our children to become who they are meant to be.